EXCLUSIVE: FORMER Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Elyas Omar flashed a big smile as he wheeled himself into his office on the eve of his 77th birthday.
Smartly dressed in silky purple batik, the wheelchair-bound Elyas showed that he has not lost his charm nor his charisma as one of the most decorated, successful and influential leaders, administrators and mentors.
The man, who has been behind the success of many city council initiatives and even breakthroughs in sports – mainly badminton and football, was sharp and witty as he recollected all the past memories over several decades under his leadership.
The twinkle in his eye however, dimmed when he spoke about Malaysia’s future in badminton.
Elyas, who was the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president from 1985-1993 and who was one of the key men behind the nation’s success in winning the Thomas Cup in 1992 at Stadium Negara, said that drastic changes were needed to take Malaysian badminton out of the doldrums.
“It has been more than 20 years since we won the Thomas Cup. I think it is time to rebuild a strong team and stop focusing too much on individual pursuit and glory,” said Elyas, who turned 77 on Nov 16.
“When I became the president, the players were training at the Police Depot. They used to walk miles to go for their training. I took the interest of players to heart. We moved to the Kuala Lumpur training hall and started to keep them together as a family.
“There were unspoken bonds of friendship in the team. Players should never feel that they are neglected,” said Elyas.
Players, who came through the ranks under his care and guidance were many, including the Sidek brothers – Misbun, Jalani, Razif, Rashid and Rahman, Cheah Soon Kit, Soo Beng Kiang and Foo Kok Keong.
“We had more than one singles player and we had several doubles combinations. There was depth. Now, we are lacking in this area. Look at how long (world No. 1) Lee Chong Wei has dominated the scene. None are closely challenging him.
“Our former All England champion Hafiz (Hashim) had the talent but he lacked motivation. I wish, the BAM then, had done their part by finding various ways to motivate him. Players sometimes need help to motivate themselves.
“In the men’s doubles, I have not seen anyone rising to the occasion except for Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong. But what has happened to them lately? In the case of Koo and Tan, one must find out what has gone wrong.
“Just imagine if we want a good car to be in optimal condition, we need to re-look at it regularly. It is important to have a good mechanic. Sometimes, there will be a need to change the spare parts, too. If the mechanic knows what has gone wrong but he is not doing anything about it, the performance of the car will continue to drop. So, whose fault is it?
“The think-tank in BAM must be able to look into this and find a way to get the best out of their players.”
Elyas also pointed out the importance of building good rapport with the coaches.
He should know.
He is the one who brought some of the best coaches like Fang Kaixiang, Han Jian and Yang Yang of China to Malaysian shores and they played a big part in Malaysia’s success at the 1992 Thomas Cup Finals.
“It is important to give them due respect. I am a man full of ideas. It is important to discuss with them first before pushing through a plan. It is about teamwork,” he said.
While strengthening the elite programme and improving the quality of coaching is important, Elyas said that aggressive efforts should be taken at grassroots level with special focus given to children from 10-14 years old.
“I may have been out of the badminton circle for some time but I do feel there is a need for BAM to re-organise themselves at the national and state level. There needs to be focus on development of talents,” he said.
“There should be a lot of competitions – inter-school, inter-state, intra-state, age-group .... The way to go is to create a big pool of players below 14 years old. They should be trained under pressure cooker conditions from young. If they do this, a player by the age of 18, will have the boldness, courage and mental strength to face any opponent.”
If there is one thing that Elyas would like to change in BAM it is the current structure. He would prefer to form one national body with only one constitution.
“If I had stayed on (after 1993), I would have abolished the current structure. It is best to have one BAM, one constitution, one plan and one budget for all. The states should be dissolved but committees should be set up at every state,” he said.
“Currently, the states have their own constitution and sometimes, we hear of infighting for power and position. This slows down the development programme in certain states as people in power are busy politicking.”
There have been three presidents after Elyas – Datuk Dr Abdullah Fadzil Che Wan (1993-2000), Datuk Seri Nadzmi Mohd Salleh (2000-2013) and currently Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel Tengku Ariff, who was voted in on July 27.
Will Malaysia be able to win the Thomas Cup again?
Will Malaysia be able to produce a world champion for the first time or will we be able to win the Olympic Games gold medal for the first time?
“The past presidents have not got it right and the new president has just started his work. He needs time to put his plans into place.
“I believe that if he gets it right by giving emphasis to the mobilisation of talents at all levels, there is a chance for Malaysian badminton to get back on track,” said Elyas, who was the chef de mission when Malaysia won the first medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona through the Sidek pair – Razif-Jalani.